Michael Verney: 'Le Richebourg can upset odds for O'Brien with Cooper primed to bounce back'
Gordon Elliott is confident that he holds his strongest festive team and the Meath trainer will hope to get things off to a flyer, with all eyes on Mengli Khan in the Racing Post Novice Chase, the sole Grade One on today's Leopardstown card.
The Cullentra handler was left purring following his debut effort over fences - he is already vying for Arkle favouritism with Amy Murphy's Kalashnikov - and the exciting five-year-old is a similar price today as he was for his beginners chase.
The Gigginstown runner is unlikely to have things all his own way at the Foxrock track, however, as he steps up drastically in class against more experienced rivals like Joseph O'Brien's Le Richebourg and Willie Mullins' Voix Du Reve in what should be another top-class renewal with plenty of Cheltenham clues on offer.
12.10 Tote Pays Dividends Maiden Hurdle 2m (4yo)
There was a 50/1 shock winner last year (Henry de Bromhead's Ellie Mac), but it generally pays to concentrate on the head of the market, with seven of the last 10 favourites obliging, and Elliott's Vision D'honneur is of particular interest in this puzzling 21-runner contest.
A €350,000 French recruit purchased by Gigginstown after scoring at Fontainebleau in April, he makes his Irish debut and should justify his expensive price tag, while De Bromhead's Navan runner-up Dancing On My Own holds claims and Prosecution is an eye-catching runner for Flat trainer Johnny Murtagh.
Verdict: Side with Jack Kennedy aboard Vision D'honneur in the opener.
12.40 Thorntons Recycling Maiden Hurdle 2m
De Bromhead has taken two of the last three renewals and a bold bid is expected from Raya Time, having chased home the promising Brace Yourself in an above average maiden at Down Royal last month.
Further improvement is expected on his second hurdle start, but it's hard to ignore the claims of Martin Brassil's City Island, which subsequently tested positive for traces of arsenic having finished first at the Galway Festival in August.
He had a decent sort in Mullins' Getareason behind on that occasion and should oblige if delivering a similar display.
Verdict: City Island to do the business for Mark Walsh.
1.10 Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle 2m (3yo)
Elliott was confident that Coeur Sublime would turn out to be the better long-term prospect despite being turned over by stablemate Chief Justice in a Grade Three at Fairyhouse earlier this month, but there is little between the pair at present.
Bryan Cooper - first jockey to owner Chris Jones - may just turn the tables on Davy Russell and take this with Coeur Sublime, but it's noteworthy that Mullins is pitching French recruit La Sorelita into this company from the off - Apple's Jade was a surprise winner in similar circumstances three years ago - and she should be highly respected as an alternative to the leading duo.
Verdict: Coeur Sublime can reverse placings with Chief Justice.
1.45 Sky Sports Racing Novice Handicap Hurdle 2m
A Christmas winner for 77-year-old Kildare trainer Frank Oakes would surely bring the house down and shock Thurles maiden winner Mountain Fox is not without a chance under Rocky Doyle, while Tony Martin has two interesting types lurking at the bottom of the handicap in Acclamatio and Share The Honour, with a market check advised for both.
The safest betting proposition may be O'Brien's Aforementioned, however, following his comfortable Limerick success on his hurdling debut and the Gigginstown mount of the red-hot Rachael Blackmore may get the better of Paul Flynn's Try Again and Matthew Smith's hat-trick seeking Warnaq.
Verdict: A tricky affair where Aforementioned may prove best.
2.20 Grade One Racing Post Novice Chase 2m1f
Mengli Khan is already as short as 9/2 for the next year's Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival based on his sole chasing start at Punchestown last month, where Elliott's charge took to his jumping task like a duck to water.
While he may well justify odds-on favouritism and go on to be a classy chaser, O'Brien's Le Richebourg (6/1) has the upper hand in terms of experience and lost nothing in defeat when going down narrowly to the exciting Delta Work in the Grade One Drinmore Novice Chase, where the pair pulled well clear.
Already a Grade Three winner at Tipperary, he can throw down a serious challenge, while Mullins - who has won the last three runnings with the brilliant trio of Footpad, Min and Douvan - saddles Grade Two Craddockstown Chase scorer Voix Du Deve, another which will give the hotpot plenty to think about.
Verdict: Le Richebourg is the value selection against Mengli Khan.
2.55 "Bet Through The Racing Post App" Handicap Chase 2m1f
Last year's year's winner Tisamystery looks to have been laid out with this contest in mind once again.
De Bromhead's charge showed his rude health with a decent effort when second at Cork last month and should go well off just 4lbs higher than 12 months ago with his stable in flying form.
Noel Meade's Bel Ami De Sivola was second in this last year, but doesn't look well handicapped, while Ted Walsh's Kildorrery has shown enough in his three chase starts to suggest that he can be in the mix, despite the five-year-old novice taking on many seasoned campaigners on his handicap bow.
Verdict: Tisamystery can do the double with conditional Daniel Holden taking a valuable 7lbs off.
3.30 Tote Supporting Irish Racing INH Flat Race 2m (4yo)
An intriguing conclusion to day one's racing action with Allaho - second in a Listed hurdle on his racecourse debut in France last March - commanding maximum respect having switched to the all-conquering Mullins team for owners Cheveley Park Stud.
He'll have to hit the ground running for the Closutton maestro, however, as Elliott's Fury Road was an easy point-to-point winner at Dromahane in May and deserves a second glance on his Rules debut.
Jessica Harrington's Exit Poll, meanwhile, has shown enough in his two bumper runs to be very competitive.
Verdict: It would be a major surprise if Patrick Mullins doesn't get the job done on Allaho.